Back in the day, when Ford ran the motor vehicle game with the Model T, American-made was the only way to go. However, since tech and innovation have made somewhat of a race of the auto industry, foreign cars from now big-hitters like Japan and Germany have stolen much of the thunder that American cars used to hold. This debate is a multi-faceted one with many complex subtopics involved. But the bottom line is that there has been a significant difference between what we’ve seen from domestic and foreign auto-makers. So, here we are in 2015, after Detroit has picked up on the fact that Japanese cars are killing the auto game—which is better? Should we buy American, or should we buy foreign? And what is the difference, really?
The long-standing foreign vs. American cars debate has a few hot topics we should be aware of when looking at each side of the coin: quality, style, price, and fuel efficiency.
In the past, American vehicles have been notoriously low on quality and price alike. Foreign cars have been the long-time winners in categories involving quality, such as reliability and longevity. I’m sure we all have that friend who has owned their Japanese-made Toyota Camry for twenty years with no problems. Many Japanese brands were and still are known for their quality and reliability, while European brands are often recognized for their superior craftsmanship and driving performance. One auto-industry expert we talked with explained:
“German automakers, in particular, are known for their impeccable high-performance engineering, building fast and stable cars that can go around corners at high speeds without any trouble. Foreign cars have a huge edge on American cars when it comes to handling, suspension and steering.”
Today, however, we’re seeing a closing of the gap between domestic and foreign auto quality. Some of the “best in class” vehicles recognized by credible auto review publications have even been newer American models. But once again, how you define “quality” will lead you to a more clear answer within our domestic/foreign debate, because each entity carries its own respectable strengths. For example, one prevalent opinion among car-buyers is the longevity as foreign cars’ strong suit.
When it comes to style, the bottom line is that it really just depends what you like. Whether you’re joining the domestic or foreign market depends on whether you’re looking for one particular style or another. Once again, in the past, foreign cars have been noted for their high-quality aesthetics, lines, and style offerings (they’re called “exotic” for a reason, people), while American cars have lagged in terms of innovation. Recently, however, with the popularization of the American muscle car, there have been more options for the domestic buyer.
Pricing is one area where American models often take the cake. Domestic auto-makers can often give buyers more bang for their proverbial buck, offering a cheaper vehicle with all the features buyers look for in their cars today. Mike Rabkin, owner of From Car to Finish, a national new car negotiating service and information provider, gave us some insight on domestic vs. foreign pricing:
“American brands in many cases offer more value/features/performance for the money vs. some of its foreign competitors, but certain models of foreign brands (such as Hyundai and Kia) compete in those regards quite competitively, if not better, than their American counterparts.”
Another factor to consider here is the cost of repairs. Buying foreign car parts for cars (especially European cars like Volkswagen or BMW) can be extremely pricey. To repair an American car is often easier on your wallet and your time-table.
American cars, through time, have been known for their inability to keep up with efficiency trends. Fuel efficiency standards are much higher in Europe and other regions of the world, so naturally American cars won’t be able to run the efficiency race alongside foreign car-makers. This table from TTAC gave us some numbers to put behind this idea:
As you can see, in 2011 and 2012, foreign cars far surpassed their American counterparts when it came to fuel efficiency. Again, American auto-makers are working to close this gap as of late, but foreign cars have notoriously been able to give American car-buyers better efficiency in their wheels.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Rabkin told us, “Comparison is not necessarily American vs. Foreign, but rather which brands (or models) are better for what you’re looking for in a car.” Regardless of which may be “better” than the other, there have been significant differences between auto-makers. So the big idea here is not debating domestic or foreign, but rather understanding what you’re looking for, and which models will meet that criteria for you. Recently, however, it has been widely recognized within the auto industry that those said differences are decreasing more and more as American auto-makers step up their own game in terms of quality, style, price, and efficiency.
Do you love your American or foreign car—and would you consider purchasing the alternative?